Twenty years ago this December, I bought a new game for my second Mac at the local Microcenter and experienced something that changed the way I looked at games forever. Fun, addictive, action filled gaming centered in a universe rich with mystery and wrapped in a fascinating story and narrative. The small team that built it, Bungie, was clearly taking a different approach to game development. I eagerly lined up in successive years for the Marathon sequels, the Myth series (I and II, to this day my favorite action games of all time – read my original review of Myth II here from 1999 please pardon the typos: http://mythgraveyard.org/005967 ), and of course, Halo.
When Halo was released it was the sole reason I bought an Xbox, and again it redefined my expectations for what gaming could, and should, be. Bungie’s games, for me, have represented the pinnacle of gaming with four core elements:
1) Rich stories, told through cutscenes and in-game context, that make you feel part of something ‘bigger’ than just the part you are playing as the main protagonist
2) Addictive, satisfying gameplay and mechanics – what Bungie has described as “30 seconds of fun,” that occurs throughout the game
3) Local or split-screen co-op, to easily play with your friends (and in my case now, family), in a single room
4) Perhaps less important than the prior three, but still elemental to the experience, a compelling, orchestral musical score (for the most part done by Marty O’Donnell and Michael Salvatore)
Measured on these four elements, I am sad to say that Destiny completely fails in all but one. The rich gameplay is here. Everything else is, for me, a disheartening failure.
1) Story: As many of the reviews have pointed out, the Destiny story simply is not there. If it is, then it is far too difficult for most to discover it. In previous Bungie games, the story gives you purpose, engages you for a clear “mission” to support it – and makes you part of that narrative. It created a sense of suspense and excitement for what is around the corner, and what you might expect from the next level. It gave you emotional engagement with characters – both your allies and your enemies, and put purpose behind their actions. It truly created a lore, of which you as the gamer were a part. Destiny’s story does none of these things. Your actions and why you are doing them are rarely explained, they are disconnected, and it turns the story “missions” into run-of-the-mill tasks in which you shoot forgettable enemies whose purpose are a complete mystery. I have finished the story and I’m still wondering what those guys wanted. This is a shame because as near as I can tell all of the pieces are there – they just haven’t been used together to give it any meaning.
2) Gameplay: Here, Destiny excels. It nails the “30 seconds of fun” – although you have to work hard at leveling up your character to experience it all, and hence at time it too feels like a chore. I actually enjoyed the leveling up process, and I will continue to play this game for months because it is truly fun (hence the five stars for ‘how much fun is this game) – but it is really the game’s only strong point – albeit the most important. A important side note on gameplay: It lacks any customizability from a gameplay standpoint. I have grown accustomed to being able to set things on “easy” for my kids, crank up their health / shields, and let them run amok. My daughter, who has trouble with FPS mechanics and does not play them enough to become “good” has found her limited time with the game frustrating because it is simply too hard for her to enjoy.
3) Local Co-op: Here the game completely fails. With past Bungie games, especially Halo, I have been able to enjoy split screen or online private matches with my friends and my family. I am fortunate to have two xboxes, and I bought two copies of the game – but it means I need to put my daughter in one room, with me in another, and we are still subject to matchmaking for the strikes and PvP, vs. being able to set up a private match and explore the world together as we see fit. My wife loved this about Halo, and when we were younger we would play together in the evenings and even talk about our experiences over drinks at dinner the next night – but I doubt I’ll ever get her to play a game of Destiny with me.
4) Music: The music is solid but at the end of the day, forgettable. The opening orchestral theme is typical of O’Donnel’s work, heavy with (what I believe are) “E” chords and majestic melodies. The score that accompanies the gameplay is serviceable, but never anything special to make you feel like you you’re an action hero in a movie.
In sum, my take on Destiny is that it is a fun game to play and has a ton to offer, but it misses in so many areas that I’ve come to expect will be there in a modern game from this top-notch developer, that I cannot help but be disappointed.
A final note: There is a TON of content in this game, with lots to do. To get the most out of it I suggest taking advantage of all of it. Don’t plow through the story. Rather pick different activities, get bounties at the tower and work to accomplish them, try out the different weapons, powers, and character classes, and generally take your time with it. It IS fun – but just don’t hope for it to have too much meaning other than the fun.
Here’s to hoping the next iteration fleshes the universe out some more, and the community’s collective feedback makes it back to Jason Jones and the team at Bungie.
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